Infertility throws a whole host of challenges at the people it plagues, and none are easy to overcome. But one of the less obvious, not-always-talked about issues that comes with infertility is the change in relationship dynamic for those who are trying to conceive a baby with a partner.
In honor of National Infertility Week — which kicked off yesterday, April 23 — we decided to explore the impact that infertility has not only on individual women, but on their relationships too.
In the U.S., about 10 percent of women ages 15 to 44 have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. According to researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center, that’s more that 6.1 million women. Assuming just half of them are partnered up, that’s at least a few million significant others who are also facing infertility and its fallout.
Below, six brave women get real about their battle with infertility and how it changed their relationships for better and worse.
“My husband and I have been through more emotionally in our first five years of marriage than many couples experience in the first 15 years! But when you’re battling something so out of your control, like infertility, you really rely on those who know you best to be your sound board, your rock, and to help balance you when medications take your body for a spin. My husband and I have a new appreciation for our love, our life together, and are learning every day our future is out of our control. What we’ve found, together, is that there’s an entire community of people dealing with this. It truly makes this disease so much more bearable.” — Liz Shaw, 29, from San Diego, California
A trigger for divorce
“My journey with infertility challenged me to my core. The first month my partner tried, I became pregnant with my first daughter. The pregnancy was not easy, and I found myself in need of emotional support for the first time in our relationship. This was not something Jack could give to me. Fast-forward a year, when we were ready to try for our second child. We conceived right away and everything seemed to be going well. However, I miscarried. From this time forward, conceiving was a challenge.
“It was almost like Jack and I were roommates who happened to share the same bed and take care of our young daughter together. The only time we worked together as a couple was once a month when I was ovulating. That was the only time I even wanted to talk to him because, from my perspective, it was like talking to a brick wall. I felt like Jack always thought that it was my fault. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he and I didn’t have a strong foundation to begin with. Along the way, we tried a variety of things to get our relationship back on track. We went to counseling and even worked with an energy healer. Sadly, it was not able to help us heal our marriage.” — Nancy, 47, Berkeley, California
“My partner and I have been married for almost 10 years and trying to have a baby for nine. We’ve been through cysts, tumors, scar tissue, multiple surgeries, an IUI and two miscarriages. But infertility has made our relationship stronger than ever. We learned to trust God even more, communicate better, love deeper and use our story to encourage others. I love my husband so much.
“Doctors said we’d never conceive but we have — twice. Although those pregnancies ended in miscarriage, we still have faith, because the doctors told us it wasn’t possible. And we know that one day, we’ll have our healthy baby! My advice to women and their partners: Never give up. No matter what’s happened, we’ve survived it and our stories are testimonies to help each other.” — Stacy Roberts, 33, Evans Georgia
A fresh spark
“I was terrified the love of my life would leave me because having children is one of life’s greatest adventures. The day he told me he married me for me, and not to have babies, I cried with relief and felt it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said to me. We chose not to let infertility define our relationship. Our life is full and rich. We now have two dogs, 13 nieces and nephews and we’re ‘auntie and uncle’ to countless of our friends’ children.
“We’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary this week, and I’m happy to report that we’re happily married and look forward to more adventures. We’re partners in life, feel lucky to have each other, and infertility is just one of the many hurdles we’ve jumped over in our life together. For women going through this, do what’s right for you and your relationship. Everyone’s experience is unique. Please know that it’s entirely possible to have a rich, rewarding life and relationship regardless of how fertility treatments work out.” — Tara, 44, Los Angeles, California
A more honest life
“I was on the fence about kids even after I got married, but my then-husband was dead set on having a ‘little man.’ After two years of marriage, we decided to try. Looking back, it’s clear the only reason we tried was that I thought giving him what he wanted would help our marriage. After a year of trying with no success, I went to the doctor and went through one round of IVF — that was all I could take. It was two emotional, tough years of trying to get pregnant.
“At times, I felt shame and guilt for not being able to give my husband a child of his own. Meanwhile, he seemed to be less and less interested in being the father of our child. Our marriage came to an end shortly after that. It was the first time I was truly honest with him. I told him I didn’t want to try anymore. We divorced, he met someone else and now has three children — all boys. It’s been nine years since we split and I remain childless, single and happier. I realized that I spent most of the relationship catering to his wants. If there was one thing I wish I’d done, it was to be more honest with my feelings from the start.” — Michelle, 52, Charlotte, North Carolina
“My battle with infertility started a little less than a year after we were married, when we decided to try for kids. Two years later, no luck. We both had surgeries, which didn’t help. Then we decided to foster-to-adopt two beautiful girls. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out either. So we embarked on IVF. Our hopes were answered two years in, and we finally got that positive pregnancy test — only to have a miscarriage.
When your body doesn’t produce the way you want, you feel a lot of guilt and shame. It’s really important to surround yourself with people who have gone through it. It impacts both you and your partner. You have to be open and talk about it. You have to work through it, because those emotions can really bring you down. It’s not going to make you feel great, but it will get you through the day. Most importantly, you have to be careful not to blame each other.” — Christine Kahan, 32, Baltimore, Maryland
More: 6 Signs You Might Be Struggling With Infertility